Who will be the Phillies’ Closer in 2021?
Spring Training is underway for the Phillies in Clearwater, Florida. The Phillies are two games in to their Grapefruit League schedule. They lost to the Tigers and tied the Baltimore Orioles. Not too much can be decided with such a small sample size in terms of position and pitching battles. Adam Haseley started off the centerfield competition strong in game one hitting a home run on the second pitch of the game. Ivan Nova already lost a spot in the starting rotation. Matt Joyce impressed in yesterday’s tie against the Orioles as he battles for a bench spot on the Opening Day roster.
Still, the most anticipated question that has been left unanswered is the bullpen. The bullpen will feature several new arms this year, highlighted by free agent signing Archie Bradley. Tony Watson, Kintzler, and Vince Velasquez, will likely be joining Bradley, Hector Neris, Connor Brogdon, and Jojo Romero in the bullpen on Opening Day. In the early days of Spring Training, the Phillies desperately needed a veteran reliever to come in and be the voice of change for the bullpen. Early signs would indicate they have their man with Brandon Kintzler.
Going a step further down the bullpen rabbit hole, the Phillies still need to figure out who will be the team’s closer for the start of the 2021 season. The competition to close out games includes Hector Neris, the Phillies primary closer since 2017, Brandon Kintzler, the primary closer for the Miami Marlins last year, and long shot Hector Rondon, who was the Chicago Cubs closer for three straight seasons before they acquired Aroldis Chapman in 2016.
This Spring, Girardi has stated he’s not really concerned on the “role” itself and that he’s more focused on getting outs, which makes perfect sense given the fact that the Phillies historically bad bullpen could not get anyone out last year. Just for the sake of this blog post while nothing else is going on in Philly sports, let’s look at the options the Phillies do have and predict who will be their closer on Opening Day.
Brandon Kintzler has found success in the closer role as recently as last season for the Miami Marlins. He posted a 2.22 ERA and converted 12 of 14 save opportunities. Before Miami, he was the closer for the Twins in 2016-2017 and converted 45 of 52 saves. Kintzler has a career 3.31 ERA in 454 games and has a terrific mindset entering this season with the Phillies. He agreed to a minor-league deal with the Phillies during the offseason, turning down a major-leauge deal from his previous team, the Miami Marlins, in order for a chance to earn a spot in the Phillies bullpen on a minor-league deal with incentives to make more money if he is able to make the major-league roster.
I still can’t get over this quote from last week when Kintzler was asked about changing the mindset of the Phillies’ bullpen this year:
“My mentality,” he said, “is basically just, ‘Fuck you. You’re not fucking beating me today. You’re not going to beat us today. As soon as we get the lead, we’re going to come out, we’re going to shove it up your ass. And if a guy gets in trouble, then the next guy needs to fucking shove it up your ass.’ When I went to Miami, that’s just what I preached and preached and preached. … You know, we weren’t the most talented team, but we worked together. We had to play together. I think I’ve been on winning teams four years in a row and I’ve kind of learned what makes teams win. It’s playing together. But you absolutely have to suffocate the team when you get the lead.”
Hector Neris maintained the role as the Phillies’ closer for the past three years. In 2017, Neris converted 26 of 29 save opportunities while posting a 3.01 ERA. Enter Gabe Kapler, who didn’t want to name a closer the following year (lol), and Neris struggled to keep his job in 2018. He did bounce back the following year in 2019 and was the closer in 2020 before Brandon Workman was acquired in a trade with Boston and took over the closer role. We all know how that worked out. I would like to see Neris in the set-up role this year rather than the closer.
Our dark horse candidate would be Hector Rondon. The hard throwing 33 year old struggled last year appearing in 32 games for Arizona and finished the season with a 7.65 ERA. Last season was an outlier from his previous years where he pitched well for the Cubs and most recently, the Astros. In his previous two seasons with the Houston Astros, averaging a 3.46 ERA. Rondon is a power arm relief pitcher that can throw in the 96-MPH range and could be slotted into the closer role if the other candidates fail to secure the job. If Rondon can rekindle his fire from previous years, he will be a valuable reliever, but much like Neris, I would rather see him in the 7th or 8th inning rather than closing out games for the Phillies.
Archie Bradley was drafted to be a starting pitcher but found success in the bullpen instead. The 28 year old has a four-pitch mix, highlighted by his 94-mph fastball. In 2019, Bradley was the closer with the Diamondbacks and converted 18 of 21 save opportunities while posting a 3.52 ERA. He struck out 87 batters in 71 2/3 innings.
In 2020, Bradley converted six of seven save opportunities with a 4.22 ERA before he was traded to the Reds. Cincinnati utilized Bradley in the setup role, where he posted a 1.17 ERA in six games. Bradley has converted 24 of 28 save opportunities and can pitch more than an inning if needed. In 82 appearances over the last two seasons, Bradley has pitched more than one inning 24 times. His resume sure does look like an MLB closer.
Archie Bradley is my leading candidate to be the Phillies’ closer this year with Brandon Kintzler as a close second. The Phillies are back in action today in a game that will not be televised or on the radio against the Toronto Blue Jays. Zack Wheeler will be on the mound and Odubel Herrera will be starting in right field.
Mandatory Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer